Everybody knows when Iron Man drinks a Dr. Pepper it’s not necessarily because he likes the taste of the soda, but because the good doctor paid beaucoup bucks to place the beverage in the superhero’s hand. Ditto the reason there are Coke glasses lined up in front of the “American Idol” judges and it ain’t to quench JoLo’s thirst. That’s not news. What is newsworthy is how those soft drinks ended up where they did. Enter Morgan Spurlock, documentary filmmaker and professional everyman.
Spurlock, who has previously documented his attempts to eat nothing but McDonalds food for a month (the “docbuster” “Super Size Me”) and hunt down a terrorist (“Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?”), returns with a look into the murky world of product placement, or, as it is called now, brand integration. For ninety minutes we follow him, first person style, as he “goes on a quest to get some sweet Hollywood ad money.” He wins some (POM Wonderful buys naming rights for $1 million), he loses some (Nike says no) and along the way ponders the moral and ethical problems of sponsorship on his art.
Spurlock is an engaging guy, which is a good thing because he inserts himself into virtually every frame of the movie. His easy charm and sense of humor lend much to the doc, but half-an-hour or so in are muted by the film’s subject. This is essentially a movie about marketing. Marketing can be sexy—sex sells!—but the business of marketing by and large isn’t.
The idea that Spurlock can finance a film entirely by sponsorship is a great one, but by the time he starts talking about “cultural decay rate” and identity versus brand the movie starts to bog down, despite its attention deficit disorder pacing.
Perhaps more insight would have helped. Spurlock is a sound bite documentarian, who can lift a great quote from Ralph Nader like “Advertisements which say they are lying are the only ones telling the truth,” but then doesn’t seem to know exactly what to do with it. Ultimately he simply sums up with the message that marketing works. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff.
That should have been the starting point, with more attention paid to why it works in the body of the film.
I wish nothing but good things for “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” By contract with his sponsors Spurlock has to hit certain goals—like $10 million box office—and I hope he succeeds, but next time out I’d like to see some of the cleverness exchanged for insight.